What It Means To Develop “Thick Skin”

When you’re a writer, you’re told early on to develop a “thick skin.” Publishers and magazines and agents are going reject you. Readers aren’t going to like you. You can’t take it personally. Blah, blah. But what does that actually mean?

Recently, I listened to someone complain about how hurt they are by negative reviews. Someone told this person that they needed to develop a thicker skin and stop being extra sensitive and stuff. It’s not that I wouldn’t be upset if someone left a lengthy negative review on my work. It’s just I’m past the point where I’m going to excessively whine about it, especially in public (online). Not just because that will only attract more negativity, but also because it doesn’t help anything.

I’m never going to tell anyone that they’re not allowed to be upset. They are always allowed, but this is what your friends, family, and support system are for. If you’re all alone, journal about it. But the fact of the matter is, you’re never truly all alone. If you’re reading this, for example, you have the internet. Get on the writing forum and get some support in the Rejection and Dejection thread.

While I was listening to that person complain, all I could think was, “No one cares.” Writers shouldn’t be bullied or threatened. That’s going way too far. But a reader saying that they hated a book or didn’t like a character or that the book needed a professional editor isn’t bullying. If that writer wants to get upset about that, they are more than free to be upset, but they also need to get over it. And also get an editor next time.

But this is a journey. In 2014, I had an editor tell me my MC was a bitch, in a bad way. Didn’t upset me at all. In 2011, I had someone write me a two page email about how much they hated my MC and why her reasons for hating my MC was huge problem to the entire story – all this based on the QUERY LETTER that I had sent her for feedback. Made me cry.

Did I love that 2014 email? Of course not. But the reason I wasn’t upset wasn’t because I’d developed a thick skin over the years. It’s not because I didn’t care. It’s because it doesn’t matter. It didn’t change how I felt about my story or the main character. The only thing I can ever control is myself. And I chose to not be upset and keep writing.

Maybe developing “thick skin” is more about learning to let things go and less about not being “sensitive” anymore. I don’t think I’ll ever feel so good about myself that a negative comment won’t bother me at all. I’ll probably always have a few minutes of, “Fricking know-it-all, fricking complaining about stupid stuff” and mumbling. But then I’ll move on. Because it’s just not worth being upset about.

We can’t control what people say. We can’t make them care. All we can do is work on not dwelling on stuff. And like a lot of things, it gets easier with experience and practice. It’s very true that I got so upset about that two page email that I couldn’t write without hearing that person’s feedback in my head for a year.

But I wrote anyway. I vented to my sister. And I kept writing. Because that’s the only thing I could do. Yelling at that girl wouldn’t have helped me. Crying myself to sleep wouldn’t have helped. The only thing I could do was dump those comments in a backpack with fear and self-doubt and write anyway.

The next story I wrote after that nasty email was the best story I had ever written. Because negative comments only make you stronger when you use them as a ladder instead of taking them like a shovel full of dirt to the face. Is it hard to do that? Heck yeah! But no one is allowed to hold me back. They don’t have permission. They don’t have control over my life.

I’m a writer. I’m a storyteller. Always have been. Always will be.

Thing is, readers spend their time and money on books. They’re allowed to expect those stories to be good and be disappointed if they’re not. That said, CJ Redwine said it best at the writing conference I went to last June. I mentioned it in my conference post, and I’ll paraphrase it again now: Readers are allowed to be mad. We’re allowed not to care. We don’t have to. And we shouldn’t. Writers tell stories. Some people will love them. Some won’t. Regardless, I choose to believe that I am a great writer who becomes greater with each project, because that is more fun, and it’s also true. 😛

Forget developing a thick skin. Channel all that emotion into your work. It’ll make you a better writer anyway, and it’s cathartic. 💙

12 Responses to What It Means To Develop “Thick Skin”

  1. YESSS!!!

    “Thick skin” in writing is a combination of experience–with writing and critique–and of figuring out what you actually need, what’s actually useful, and what is just someone’s opinion. It can take a bit of logical thinking and calming down to get to that point if there’s a negative review or a negative comment or whatever, but thick skin develops eventually.

  2. Love that quote! And I completely agree. I think writers are naturally sensitive and that’s a good thing. I’ve gotten much better at not letting the negative comments stop me from going forward. Sometimes they do hurt, but that’s okay. I still push on.

  3. Amen! Rejection or bad comments always hurt. But nobody likes everything and nothing makes everyone happy. It’s learning to pick out the important bits, shut out the rest and continuing on. And having a big box of chocolate on the side for the weaker lapses 😉

  4. Yes. I may get bummed over a rejection and sometimes I get mad or sad, but I’m generally not going to vent online and my home time venting is going to be limited. I move forward and write onward, because that’s what I really want to do. Not everyone is going to like what I write and that’s okay. I don’t like everything written. It’s a fair system.

  5. That quote is awesome.

    I have an author friend that actually comments on his low ratings on Goodreads with things like “Hey, what was so bad about my book that you gave it only one star?” and I’m just shaking my head, thinking “Dude, what are you doing?” Rule #1 with reviews: Don’t engage! I have yet to receive a negative review, but I did get hit with two 2-star ratings on Goodreads. Neither one of them left a review, which on the one hand is pretty frustrating, because as a writer you have no feedback to guide your future WIPs. On the other hand, the lack of feedback made it easier to not dwell on them. I’m still waiting to feel the blow of a truly bad review…I’ll be sure to have this post on standby for when that happens!

    • I love a good quote. ^_^

      Dude! No! Responding just makes everyone who sees it uncomfortable. And just no. LOL! I feel the same as you about low ratings. On one hand, I’m curious, but on the other hand, it’s easy to move on. I responded to a rejection on a query letter once almost five years back, and I still kick myself for doing it. LOL!

Hi! ^_^